Reading the St. Andrew's Day Statement Oliver O'Donovan The St. Andrew's Day Statement (named from the date of its publication in 1995) is a contribution to a heated debate in the Church of England about "how we should respond to those, including clergy, seeking to live in quasi-marital relations with a person of the same sex." This debate, which had been a feature of church life for a decade or more, was given a new impetus in 1991 by a statement from the House of Bishops, Issues in Human Sexuality, which held that someone living in such a relation should not be ordained, and that an ordained priest or deacon should not live in such a relation. The debate assumed an embittered and confrontational tone, fanned by a great deal of publicity; and it was dismay at this situation, as well as dissatisfaction with the theological weakness of much that was being said on either side, that led the authors to undertake their work. They believed that a new approach and new theological perspectives needed to be brought to bear upon the question. So, then, the Statement does not present itself as the work of a "representative" group, if by that is meant a group in which all shades of existing opinion are represented at the start. They speak for a point of view of their own, one which they think has been crowded out by the polarised alternatives of a polemical debate. In another sense, however, they are not unrepresentative of the church as it now is, and bring quite a variety of personal and pastoral experience to bear on the problem - more than might appear from the list of signators which excludes some who wished to safeguard their anonymity. They conceived their work as the beginning of a process, which must continue by way of careful and sympathetic dialogue with representatives of the polarised blocs of opinion.
This commentary on the Statement is intended to help the reader appreciate both its strategy and the nature of the contribution to the debate it intends to make. Like all commentaries, it has only the authority of its own author; others might well have drawn attention to different things in the Statement, or explained certain points differently. Still, it will have some use, I hope, in showing what one of the Statement's authors thought the Statement achieved and why he thought the enterprise important.
The most important thing, perhaps, comes right at the beginning, where it is all too easy to overlook. There, under the heading "Introduction", the authors of the Statement describe the approach to the question of homosexuality which they recommend to the church and which they propose to follow themselves. They invite the church to define its "fundamental agreements". These agreements are to be theological; that is to say, they concern the way Christian faith views human nature and its powers, including sexual powers. If these agreements can be brought to the fore, the authors argue, then the range of controversial issues, theoretical and practical, with which the gay consciousness has presented us, can be discussed in a better atmosphere and on a stronger foundation. They don't suggest that the church should avoid discussing these controversial issues. It is simply that they must first be set in the context of common Christian faith if progress is ever to be made with them.
In other words, the church must decide afresh what its starting certainties are. For when it rushes headlong into debate with every kind of unexamined and conflicting presupposition, it ends up, as we have seen, with a confused battle which is given virulence by mutual suspicions about how the Gospel is understood on either side. Worse: the battle is fought out over particular pastoral decisions which ought to be taken with some flexibility, responding to the needs of each particular case, and ought to be protected by a measure of confidentiality. These decisions, then, can never be made or evaluated on the right criteria, but always end up being read as programmatic statements in a partisan cause. And so the church becomes divided in reproach and recrimination. Only an assertion of Gospel truths held in common, so the authors hold, can change the way in which these differences are seen. It is, of course, a classic ecumenical strategy; but it has been strikingly absent from the debate so far.
The Statement sets out to follow the same course that the Introduction recommends to the church. It is organised in two parts: a creedal-type statement which asserts the theological principles in a trinitarian pattern, followed by an "Application" of this statement to the issues in debate. The comparative brevity of the Statement is significant. There is, of course, a great deal more to be said about the subject than is said here; but as a matter of policy the authors left the greater part of what they had to say on the cutting-room floor, because they wanted to confine themselves to those front-rank, "fundamental" points which they urge the church to concentrate on first. They wanted their Statement to be one on which people with differing opinions about many other matters could find agreement on the central matters. So the first thing we must make up our minds to do as we read the Statement is not to "read between the lines", filling in all the things we imagine the authors were "really" meaning to say. If they didnâ€™t say them, they meant not to say them. Not because they thought that â€œtheyâ€ - whatever they are - could or should never be said; but because they thought they didnâ€™t have a place here, among the things that must be said to hold the church together in the unity of faith. Their lines are meant, as it were, to have empty spaces between them, spaces for the reader's own views, not spaces for the reader to project back views which they are supposed to have implied without saying.
The second thing we must make up our mind to is not to apply the "shibboleth-test": have they or have they not said the one all-important thing which I always say? The authors do not expect to say just what their readers always say; they expect their readers to say it for themselves in the space which the authors have left them. So we must get over our initial disappointment that "it" - whatever it is - is not there; and we must look rather hopefully to see whether and how it can comfortably be put in. But what if there is not space for it? What if the authors have squeezed it out, by denying something that is essential to it or saying something that excludes it? Then, of course, we have a real disagreement with them; but even at this point our responsibility to them does not come to an end. They have, slightly unusually, addressed a request to readers who reach this position. They have asked them to be "precise" about the scope of their disagreement - that is to say, to indicate how little adjustment in the Statement would suffice to allow them to say what they think must be said. The constructive reader, then, into whose hands they hope the Statement will come, is the reader who is prepared to cut the disagreements down to size and look for ways in which disagreements can be situated within agreements. Needless to say, the authors of the Statement would be delighted to hear from readers who wish to communicate with them on these lines; but whether or not they do so, being "precise", letting the disagreement deflate to its proper size, is the way that the peace of the church and the truth of the Gospel demands. Another formal feature of the Statement that may strike us, besides its structure and its brevity, is its cool, even detached manner, that may seem hardly in keeping with a subject so inevitably steeped in human emotion. Here, too, it is a matter of deliberate policy. Rhetorical flamboyance is an indulgence that nobody can afford when the peace of the church is threatened. But avoiding it means more than avoiding words of overt suspicion or contempt.
Part of the trouble is that people do not always know when they are being rhetorically flamboyant. Loose categories and inept paradigms can build up a style of rhetoric that suggests sweepingly that everything is perfectly clear and that one must be disingenuous or a fool to deny it. Two examples suggest themselves from current rhetorical fashions: the rhetoric of "nature" and the rhetoric of "liberation".
Now, of course, both these terms have a responsible and illuminating use. The question of how and where they belong within discussion of homosexuality is one that any serious discussion has to explore. But precisely for that reason one cannot simply deploy either of those notions as though there were nothing to be explored. No interest of those who understand themselves as gay can possibly be served by a rhetoric of liberation that wraps up everything in a carpet-bag category of â€œblacks, women and gaysâ€ without the slightest interest in what makes the gay experience distinctive. To elucidate the truth of the gay experience in the light of the truth of the Gospel: that is the cause for which the gay Christian struggles. Even a rhetoric deployed supposedly in his interest, insofar as it violates the truth of the experience, violates him. The charge is commonly made, to be sure, that creedal language, too, fails to pay sufficient attention to experience. The authors do not share this view. They believe that a disciplined and discriminate deployment of creedal categories does, in fact, illumine complex areas of human experience. For them, as for the tradition of the church which has used creeds and confessions in baptism, the importance of the creed is as an initiatory and pedagogical resource, a light to shine in on a dark and confused area of experience and make exploration possible. That is their theological stance; obviously, it can only be tested in life itself, by actually living through experience under the light of the wisdom of the Gospel. This in different ways different members of the group have done and do do, so that their creed, too, has experience behind it, both their own experience and that of others to which they have attended. But they do not think that the church's understanding can simply begin and end with their, or other people's, experience, moving, as it were, in a closed circle. They have used the credal formulation as a starting-point from which experience, which never comes self-interpreted, can be interpreted out of the Word of God in Christ. There is, of course, no one single experience. Even within the compass of a single person's life, the experience of emotion and of sexuality is very varied; and when the experiences of different people are put in play, they often challenge and contest one another. The only possible outcome, then, of a discourse founded wholly on experience is unresolved conflict. Nothing is gained by appealing to experience if only one kind of experience is to be admitted - for this would not really be an appeal to experience at all, since the ground on which the privileged experience was selected would not itself be a part of experience, but merely an idea which had, as it were, selected the experience to confirm itself. Nor is anything gained if we insist that two conflicting kinds of experience should be considered - a "majority" experience alongside a "minority" experience. There can be no majorities and minorities in this field; reality is too complex for such simple- minded partitions.
There may be, of course, those who are quite prepared to conduct a discourse on the basis of a single privileged experience that is not their own - either because their own experience frightens them, or perhaps because it bores them. But this strategem, too, in whatever interest it is deployed, is in bad faith and will lead nowhere. For the search for an understanding of homosexuality is a search for the understanding of our common humanity itself. None of us can engage in it with the comfortable feeling that we are only doing it for the sake of other people. It concerns us all alike. There are two reasons why the Statement proper begins with the question of "identity" - i.e. what we know ourselves to be. The first is that it gives priority to the theological assertion that is central to the discussion: Jesus Christ is the disclosure of all true humanity. But it also allows the authors to attend immediately to the way the gay movement presents itself: as a form of identity and as a suffering identity. They have no preamble, then, about what they take the problem of homosexuality to be, what the phenomena are, what is said about it in Scripture etc. etc. These issues are to be touched on later, after they have addressed the point at which the gay self-consciousness is engaged by the central point of the Christian self-consciousness. We ask ourselves, "who or what am I?" And the way in which we set about answering determines everything that follows. For the St. Andrew's Day Statement, self-knowledge is a gift of divine grace in Jesus Christ. "There can be no description of human reality, in general or particular, outside the reality of Christ." If we accept this starting-point, we will accept, too, that we always stand in danger of misunderstanding ourselves. The deliveries of our self-consciousness enjoy no infallibility; we may read our identities in ways that do not find their ground where God has provided it, in the humanity created and redeemed in Christ. What, then, of a statement such as, "I am a homosexual"? What status can such a claim to self-knowledge have? Clearly, we can't exclude it; we may come to understand elements in our emotional disposition that are properly, even necessarily, formulated in such a claim. But it has to be surrounded by a caution: such a claim can never be foundational or definitive. It may tell us something that is true about ourselves, but it cannot close the book on our self-discovery. It cannot protect itself against further questions and further answers. A knowledge of ourselves derived from our patterns of emotional response can only be a provisional knowledge. It is part of the evidence; it tells us just so much, not the whole; and so it must be held in an open-ended way. By implication the Statement criticises an attitude, characteristic of some homosexual identity-claims which, having been wrung from a hard struggle, come out brittle and defiant, daring anyone to raise a question or suggest a qualification. "Affective fundamentalism" is a name that has been given, not unsuitably, to this attitude. Yet the Statement by no means suggests that this temptation is unique to homosexual identity-claims. It mentions several other kinds of self-definition which people may assume out of "personal and family histories...social settings and solidarities". "I am English", "I am an intellectual", or "I am working-class" can be quite as destructive and falsifying of our identity before God. But then, equally, these assertions can be used innocently and helpfully. It all depends on the place they hold in our hierarchy of self-interpretations and on the use we put them to in opening up or closing off relations with others. And the same can be said of "I am a homosexual". When the Statement says, "there is no such thing as 'a' homosexual or 'a' heterosexual", it does not mean that there can be no use for such a term, but that "at the deepest ontological level" this distinction is not a determinant of personal identity. If one is conscious of homosexual or of heterosexual responses to other people, or, indeed, of both, that consciousness discloses a quality, like other qualities, of the person one knows oneself to be in Christ. It tells us "what am I like?" , "in what ways do I function?â€, not "what am I?". We are warned against reifying the homosexual-heterosexual distinction. I would be quite wrong to think that this warning is meant to be heeded only by those who speak for the gay consciousness. It is meant at least as much for other participants in the debate, who may find it quite convenient for the purposes of dogmatic clarity to divide the human race into two opposed and exclusive "sexual orientations". It is like the reified party-consciousness which Gilbert mocked in Victorian England: "Every boy and every gal That's born into the world alive, Is either a little Liberal Or else a little Conservative." It is essentially a mythical construction, this Either-Or. Certainly it owes nothing to such empirical evidence as is available, all of which points to a spectrum of emotional attraction in which there is more weight in the centre than at either end. But it suited the purposes of nineteenth-century psychiatrists, who wanted to categorise the "true" homosexual, just as it now suits the purposes of lawyers who want some clear-cut notion of "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation". The real complexity of the emotional responses that any human being may experience is all too easily lost sight of. It will become apparent in the second section of the Statement how concerned the authors are about the effect of such simplistic and rigid categories, which "imprison the imagination by foreclosing the recognition of emotional variety and development." The Either-Or locks people in, "heterosexuals" so-called as well as homosexuals, to refusing emotional ambiguity and growth. It also pronounces a terrible verdict against the inappropriately named "bisexual", for whom ambiguity is a constant feature of emotional experience. One example of the distorting effect of this theoretical strait-jacket is to be found in Issues in Human Sexuality, where the Bishops offer such people the preposterous advice that they should seek counselling, "to discover the truth of their personality"! That is to say: ambiguity and diversity of emotional response cannot be the truth; only something monochrome and uniform will do! The Statement then turns to the question of emotional struggle. Once again, there are two reasons: one is to pursue the Christological form of human existence, "following in the way of the cross"; the other is to attend to the gay self-consciousness. They mention two aspects of the struggle, subjective and objective. The essence of struggle is subjective - "against disordered desires or the misdirection of innocent desires"; the objective factors, "wealth or poverty, illness or health, educational success or failure", determine the form which the subjective struggle may take. It is left almost entirely up to the reader to decide how this general observation applies to the special form of struggle which is part of the gay self-consciousness. It is another example of the authors' deliberate reticence, and one which certainly exposes them to unsympathetic interpretation on the basis of a hasty reading. It would be possible, for example, to conclude that the "disordered desires" which they think it our vocation to struggle against are, quite simply, impulses of homosexual attraction, no more and no less. Possible, but very unfriendly. For there is actually no ground in the Statement even for thinking that sexual desires in general are what is primarily meant. The description serves perfectly well for the struggle of a Christian who, say, has constant difficulty making ends meet and is consumed by the desire for more money; or of one who encounters persistent hostility and has to struggle with resentment, anger and a desire to quit the battle instead of struggling on. These struggles against "disordered desires" are just as much "part of every Christian's life", common to the experience of discipleship. It is reasonable to attribute to the words the widest reference they will bear. On the other hand, there is no point in them unless they also refer to some aspect of the homosexual disposition. (The phrase "disordered desires" echoes a phrase used of homosexual acts in the Vatican document Personae Humanae, "intrinsically disordered", and the echo may have some significance.) Their point, then, is that the emotional life of homosexual Christians cannot be excluded from the general confession of affective disorder which all Christians believe they have to make. It is as though they were saying to the advocate of gay-consciousness, who might bridle at the idea that homosexual affections were disordered: Can you accept that disorder is no less a feature of the homosexual situation than of the affective life of human beings in general? While to the un-gay Christian who might be prepared to regard that description complacently, simply as an account of the homosexual dilemma, the question is put: Why do you not see your own position, too, described in these terms? The experience of struggle against emotional disorder ought to lead us to moral solidarity with one another. If it does not, the reason is suggested in the words from the Principles section: "that we should trust in him, abandon every self-justification, and rejoice..." A sense of struggle may lead us to get bogged down in "self-justification"; and when it does so, as the Book of Job unforgettably illustrates, it evokes a retaliatory self-justification in response. And that is one reason why homosexuality has become a controversial issue: accusations, reproaches, defences are the stuff of this supposed debate. They spring from the acute self-consciousness we all feel when the integrity of our instinctual reactions is put in question. But Christians are supposed to have learned that they must be put in question, all of them, all the time. If we had grasped the truth expressed in the phrase "justification by faith", and had come to know ourselves frankly as sinners living under grace, our disagreements would lack that bitterness which comes from an outrage at feeling somehow accused. Only at this point, when it has spoken of identity and struggle, does the Statement discuss the question of homosexuality as such and what the church should be saying to homosexuals in its midst. Here again it begins with a word of caution: the church should not pretend to be too knowing. There are "phenomena", plenty of them, including accumulated observat ions of sexual behaviour and instinct that have been systematically acquired and tested, the "scientific data", but also, as should not be forgotten, many informal observations, not least those relating to the cultural and social dynamics of our own civilisation. There are also "interpretations" of the phenomena; these are multiple and conflicting, and often fail to accommodate all the phenomena sufficiently. In other words, the discussion has to proceed in an open theoretical field. There is no "science" of homosexuality which we can all simply take as read. Some may regret this, some be glad of it; but it requires care on the part of the church not to wed its reflections to a theory that seems to have plausibility and may have acquired some currency, but which may quite well be discredited in a couple of decades. Naturally, this should not discourage Christian thinkers and investigators from advocating theoretical approaches they think fruitful. It is simply that fruitful lines of thought are one thing, presumed knowledge is another. The church, too, has an interpretative role and this is the "Christian task" which it needs to address more adequately. The Statement does not accept the view that there is nothing new to be thought or proposed on this subject, all that is needed being to reiterate traditional moral teaching. The traditional moral teaching has its importance for the authors, as we shall see; but in the Principles they speak of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in "interpreting the times" and "the needs of each new age", while in the Application the church's interpretation is not only to be "governed by the authority of the apostolic testimony" but "open to empirical observation". There is, I think, at least a suggestion here that the phenomena are not simply the same from one age to the next, but evolve. However, none of this implies that the meaning of the times and the needs of the age can simply be read off the course of history "transparently". They criticise the naive view that the church has only to "keep abreast" of the times, floating downstream, as it were, on the current of ideas. Far from it: interpreting the times requires "clarification"; that is to say, boundaries must be drawn, distinctions made, and (though this is not said) dangers warned against, confrontations risked. The church has to offer a wisdom that is not simply lying there on the surface of the culture; its task is described in the Application as a "teaching" task, and in the Principles as "proclaiming the Word of God". The bearing of the New Testament on our contemporary debates has been extensively discussed, and a wide range of hermeneutic strategies followed. At one extreme only a very general set of normative principles are accepted, and all the specific references to homosexuality are excluded as culturally conditioned; at the other minute investigations of the precise sense of such words as arsenokoites; and many proposals fall somewhere in between. The authors had some difficulty in deciding just how much they needed to say on this topic. There was plenty they could have said; but their approach encouraged them to leave as much width for varying interpretations as would be responsible rather than advancing a favoured interpretative strategy of their own. They contented themselves finally with two observations, each of them especially relevant to Romans 1, the locus classicus, but borne out, as they indicate, by other texts too. In the first place, the human condition that gives rise to homosexual behaviour is seen by the New Testament authors as a failure to understand God and his world. This, not arbitrary and wilful disobedience, is at the heart of the N.T doctrine of human sinfulness. In the second place, it follows that homosexual behaviour is "located within" the broader context of idolatry, and is not simply a matter of "wilfully perverse acts". This reading pits the Statement against a view popularised a generation or so ago by D.S. Bailey and still much held, that the biblical condemnation of homosexual acts is concerned only with wilfully perverse engagement in them on the part of those whose emotional dispositions were otherwise. It is, of course, impossible to imagine Saint Paul actually making the distinction between "inverts" and "perverts" (to use the now old-fashioned language that Bailey deployed); but it is also hard to imagine that he would have built on this distinction had he known it, since for him the nub of the issue was the cultural misconstrual of the world out of which cultural homosexuality arose. Homosexuality is not condemned as one might condemn someone who could have been a fine composer but spent his life writing popular scores for Hollywood. It is more like someone who might have been a philosopher devoting himself to black magic. Yet, by the same token, the apostles are not especially concerned to condemn homosexual persons or acts when it is, all the time, the culture that they have in their sights, a culture of idolatry which they share with everybody else. The culpability of the individual is irrelevant: it is the culture that has, to pursue the analogy, substituted black magic for philosophy. There is nothing in the Statement to exclude the suggestion, made recently by some gay Christian apologists, that to begin with the morality of particular acts is simply to begin in the wrong place. Attention now switches from the interpretative to the pastoral task of the church. First, the pastoral task in general, "in relation to all its members", is to "reaffirm" the Good News in a particular address to particular people with particular needs. Nothing is different in principle when the addressee is a self-defined homosexual living with a partner. Here, too, the word that the church has to speak is a word of evangelical encouragement. No distinction is made between an "evangelistic" word addressed to those who are actually or morally outside the church and a "pastoral" word addressed to members in good standing; whatever the usefulness of that distinction in other contexts, it is not invoked here. The homosexual member of the church is not treated as actually or morally outside the church, but as a serious follower of Jesus Christ like any other. Throughout this section of the Statement the best-case scenario is assumed. That is appropriate, because it is the scenario on which the claim for recognition of homosexual partnerships is based. There is no point in insisting that many homosexuals do not conform to this scenario, any more than there is in objecting to church marriage on the ground that most married couples do not attend church. The faithful homosexual Christian, however, is in a situation which the church cannot recognise as one of "two forms or vocations" within which a â€œlife of faithful witness in chastity and holiness can be lived.â€ As it stands, the claim that there are two and only two such forms, though well supported, as the authors think, from Scripture, is not directly a biblical one but claims the authority of unbroken church tradition. If that tradition were shown to be essentially defective (i.e. without the supposed support of Scripture) or (less implausibly) to be more accommodating than has been thought (e.g. including homosexual unions as a valid variant of marriage), then, of course, there would be no general difficulty. But that supposes a radical development in the church's understanding of the tradition. The Statement does not rule such a development out a priori; in principle, no Anglican who believed, as Anglicans are supposed to believe, in the corrigibility of tradition could rule it out a priori. Yet the authors do not entertain the suggestion that such a development is in train or can be anticipated, and so they conclude: "there is no place for the church to confer legitimacy upon alternatives", i.e. to marriage and singleness. This phrase has been read as saying rather more than it does. It is the conferral of legitimacy, i.e. by implication some kind of ceremonial endorsement, which it rules out. Relationships may have moral integrity in varying degrees without the church's formal authorisation. The integrity that is claimed for some homosexual unions does not depend on any ceremony. Indeed, when, in the ordinary course of events, the church solemnizes a marriage, it is not purporting to pronounce on the moral quality of the relationship involved. It is shaping the expectations of the community and conferring evangelical authorisation on the form which the relationship takes. Something similar can be said about vows of celibacy. It is this formal function which the authors think inappropriate in the case of a homosexual partnership, given the church's understanding of the two alternative vocations. Yet the church member in this generally irregular situation is to be "assisted" and "encouraged" in discipleship; in any personal counsel that is offered, due weight is to be given to "the circumstances which make each individual case different from every other". This is the "flexibility" which the Statement claims for personal practice. It means the freedom to begin from the needs of this person in this situation, and from what the Holy Spirit is saying to him or her at this point. And it means being able to treat different people differently, responding to their different capabilities, receptivities, patterns of responsibility and obligation, curves of moral and spiritual development. Let us entertain an analogy, which may seem far-fetched at first glance but which has some illumination to offer: how the church addresses capitalists, of whom it has a number (and once had rather more) among its members. A virtually unanimous church tradition from the early period to the Reformation held that wealth was to be devoted to the needs of the poor, and should not be lent at interest. The member of the congregation, then, who earns a living on the Stock Exchange is apparently in a doubtful position vis-a-vis the church's tradition of moral teaching. But that does not mean the pastor must belabour him or her with exhortations to repent at every opportunity. It does mean, however, that at some point in a programme of pastoral care a thoughtful discussion is in place about what it means for those who work in the financial industries to serve God rather than Mammon. In the course of that discussion challenges from the tradition will quite naturally be heard and taken up. Here, however, the.analogy goes further, and may point to a way in which the dialogue with gay Christians could develop. For the church has more to offer the capitalist Christian than a simple repetition of the economic doctrines of the pre-industrial era. Its sustained wrestling with the acquisitive impulses of industrial society over the past two centuries has left a deposit of insight into how capitalist structures can be made susceptible of socially responsible development. Questions about ethical patterns of investment, responsible industrial decision-making and employment terms and so on, all arise out of this ongoing dialogue between Christian charity and the logic of industrial enterprise, and they constitute an authentic extension of the church's moral tradition into which the contemporary investor can be, and needs to be, introduced. Can we imagine something similar happening in the realm of sexual ethics? Well, a development of the tradition cannot take place just by announcing that it is going to. It is the result of a deepening understanding on the part of the whole church, the outcome of serious and prolonged engagement with theoretical questions, practical problems and successful and unsuccessful experiments. It is not simply a matter of Bishops or Synods deciding that they will change their line. On the other hand authentic developments cannot be ruled out; and we can learn to conduct our dialogue in such a way that, if and as new understanding does offer itself, we will be open to it. Borrowing a phrase from Issues in Human Sexuality, the Statement speaks of "respecting the integrity" of members of the church who "conscientiously dissent" (i.e. reflectively and with careful thought) from the church's teaching. That is to say, the church can recognise the seriousness of the stance these members are taking, want to engage equally seriously with them, acknowledge that such an engagement may have the long-term effect of developing the tradition of church-understanding (though nobody is in a position to say how and to what extent), all without thinking that its advocacy of the traditional view is, as such, mistaken. It is worth pausing here to measure the width of the space between the lines; that is to say, how much the authors of the Statement have felt it safe to leave open as the subject for constructive disagreement. On the one hand, what they have said is compatible with the view that the serious gay Christian is simply mistaken; his or her position rests on a misunderstanding; the gay consciousness is a blind alley, with which the church simply has to be patient. Provided there is no attempt to stir up conflict, the church can respect the good faith of those who are mistaken, discuss the issues in a relaxed way as they arise, and wait for light to dawn. On the other hand, it is also compatible with the view that the serious gay Christian is a kind of prophet, acting in the loneliness of faith by stepping self-consciously and deliberately outside the church's tradition to point in a new direction that God is opening up and which the church will come to recognise in time. Precisely the seriousness of such an act rules out the hope for cheap or easily won concessions. Like certain Roman Catholic couples who, though using contraceptives themselves, resist the idea of a change in the church's teaching because they don't think such a step should be taken lightly, so, on this account, gay Christians would accept a minority stance for as long as it takes for the testing and appropriation of their insight. These two outlooks, the authors imply, can exist together and argue their differences fruitfully. Neither believes the church's understanding can be lightly set aside; both believe the situation requires patience and attention to God's voice. In this context the Statement accepts the distinction that the Bishops made between what is acceptable among the laity and what is acceptable among the clergy. The clergy have "a particular commission to expound and exemplify the teachings of the church". They are by their office advocates of the tradition. The prophetic charism, if such it is, naturally takes its stand in distinction to the official ministry. The Bishops propounded a disciplinary rule that clergy might not live in homosexual partnerships. The Statement offers no verdict on this rule as such; it may be wise, or it may be unwise. But it does think it is morally intelligible to make a distinction within church order between what is demanded of clergy and laity; and it draws attention to New Testament precedents for this. One might add that there are many Anglican precedents, too. The 1969 Canons of the Church of England, for example, forbade anyone to be ordained who had remarried and had a former partner living, or who was married to someone who had a former partner living. It is probably quite inevitable that some such distinction should be made in any church which has an ordained ministry at all, so that only Plymouth Brethren can reject the idea with complete consistency! The third section completes the trinitarian structure of the Statement by turning from the Son, the source of our human self-knowledge, and from the Spirit, the source of the church's interpretation and ministry, to the Father. Here the authors wish to speak about fulfilment and satisfaction. The logic of this progression is drawn from 1 Corinthians 15:27f., where the work of redemption is completed in the final sovereignty of God the Father, who shall be "all in all". Once again the theological structure casts light on the crisis of the times, a crisis by no means limited to sexual, let alone homosexual preoccupations. What is the relation of God's call to fulfilment to the restless search for satisfaction which causes us to make love and break up the relationship, have children and forsake them, make money and squander it, settle down and uproot ourselves, set our ambitions on some appointment and then, when we have it, look out for another? Two images of the self and its fulfilment are contrasted. One sees the self as â€œprivateâ€ and its fulfilment as a perfect act of self-expression, like a bunch of flowers in which all the blooms open. The other sees it as destined to make a contribution to a larger whole; its fulfilment is like that of a well-pruned branch which has been trained straight and strong to make the whole tree shapely. We are invited to see our lives in the latter way: fulfilled through participation in the fulfilment of God's creation. When we speak of being "fulfilled" in marriage or singleness, we do not mean simply that we find our state of life inherently satisfying; that may or may not be the case. We mean that it "points forward" to that further goal, taking us beyond ourselves. In doing this our state of life will realise some aspects of our personal endowment and leave others unrealised; only as it does so do we cease to be a set of open possibilities and become something, making the unique contribution that we are called to make. The moment of denial is essential to the process of fulfilment. There were ways I might have gone; powers I might have developed; but only by closing them off could I go the way I have gone, develop the powers that I have developed. Accepting the call that God has given means accepting the closures which that call demands. The idea of vocation includes a great deal more than the alternative of the married and single states of life, but these are aspects of our individual vocations, and impose their own logic of denial and growth upon them. The single life does not offer an exclusive, intimate and permanent relationship at the centre of our network of relationships. The lack of this may have its own distinctive timbre of poignancy, especially when it catches up with us in middle age; but essentially it is to be viewed in the same way as other denials, including those that marriage imposes. The authors do not say that all who understand themselves as homosexual are called to do without such a relationship. Some readers will draw this inference, others may not. What they do say, however, is that a vocation to do without such a relationship can coincide with a "desire that (one) may reasonably have" for one. The "reasonable desire" is not a sufficient ground for a reasonable expectation. There is, however, something which one may not only reasonably desire but form a reasonable expectation of, and that is friendship. This is a 'blessing' which we can know our vocation, whether we are married or single, is to include. For friendship is the natural form of what, touched by Christ, becomes the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit". And because it is capable of this transformation, it has, the authors claim, a â€œproperly exploratory characterâ€. That is to say, in making and deepening friendships in the context of the Christian life, we are discovering something of what God intends for ordinary human relations in the Kingdom of God. Here a warning may be necessary; there is danger, as well as hope, in the eschatological openness of human nature to transformation. If exploration guided by the Spirit of Christ expands the horizons of mutual confidence, exploration guided by the Spirit of Antichrist may expand very different possibilities: domination and exploitation, for instance. Yet the authors still feel compelled to say that the forms authentic friendship takes can be unconventional and unexpected - "freed from human constructs", as they put it, meaning patterns of expectation which inhibit the imagination from grasping possibilities God is preparing us for. Some gay apologists have suggested that homosexual relations are properly to be understood as experimental forms of deeper friendship. The authors of the Saint Andrew's Day Statement do not accept this contention, but neither do they rule it out a priori. They leave it to be proven to the church, by those who make such claims for homosexual friendships, that they are in fact "directed by the hope for the final appearing of Jesus". In conclusion we may briefly ask ourselves how the debate on homosexuality would look and sound different if the principles which the Statement proposed were observed on all sides. There would, of course, still be a debate; there would still be disagreements. But their focus would be, as suggested by the text from Titus 2 which the authors placed at the end of their Statement, questions of Christian authenticity and holiness. "Rights" is a term one might expect not to hear in it; and it would not buzz so insistently around the status-honeypot of holy orders or hover over the power-switch, forbidden/allowed. It would be far more a lay debate, clearly about and for the sake of lay Christian living, concerned to identify what is admirable, impressive, authentically Christ-like. And let us not miss hearing the text's emphasis on "waiting". A debate conducted on these lines would have to be less impatient: waiting on experience, waiting on understanding, waiting on the manifestation of Christ which heralds the transformation of all things.
From Anglican Life and Witness: a reader for the LambethConference of Anglican Bishops 1998, ed. Chris Sugden & Vinay Samuel. SPCK, 1997, pp. 38-51.
These posts are by guest authors for Fulcrum